“Who but John Kinsella and Louis Armand could have invented and laid out the 21st Century protocols that govern the intriguing collaborative poems in Synopticon? Encyclopedic, witty, packed with knowledge about arcane subjects, this is a book to sample and reread with ever-increasing knowledge, pleasure, and admiration.” –Marjorie Perloff, author of Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media and Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy.

Litteraria Pragensia Books marks its 10th anniversary with the publication of Synopticon: A Collaborative Poetics by Louis Armand & John Kinsella, with an introduction by Pierre Joris. Composed as a collaborative project during the course of an extended email exchange between 1997 and 2011, Synopticon is part poetics of collaboration, part cultural archaeology, part textual collage, recording an investigation into authorship and authenticity in the construction of social texts and cultural artefacts…

“…there are some very detailed descriptions, protocols
circulating in slow motion like a ring of flies
in the middle of an interrogation room…”

As the authors recount in a prefatory note, the title, “Synopticon,” was decided upon at the very outset — contemporaneous with, and independent of, Thomas Mathiessen’s adoption of the term in “The Viewer Society: Michel Foucault’s Panopticon Revisited,” Theoretical Criminology (1997). A usage closer to that of the authors’ collaborative project had, unbeknownst to them, already been employed by artist Robert Pepperell, whose digital culture synthesiser (in which the user can ‘remix’ sounds, images, text and music in a partially random, partially controlled way) was commissioned by the Barbican Gallery, London, in 1996. Pepperell and Armand later corresponded on the subject, and the above image from Pepperell’s installation was initially proposed for the book’s cover.

“Collaboration as technique: the disputation of existing hegemonies alongside the pragmatics of making (new) use of current states of affairs — the poetics of détournement.”

Pierre Joris writes in his Introduction: “The authors are not trying to pull some theoretical punches behind the scenes, out of sight of the reader. What I’ve called elsewhere ‘process-showing,’ i.e. the propositions inside the text that speak of & to the text, giving the reader a handle on the text’s formal moves & methods of composition, these are a user’s manual that is not added to the package as some external supplement, but incorporated into, part of the text itself. Take these lines from ‘Zoning Discourse: Synoptical Echo Pangenesis,’ the opening poem:

… double-gazing of cathected
sea-like creatures “depositing
about a place they might term
landscape” … qua
meta-physical & (self-)
erasure in counterfeit anatomies—
elevating myth to gestalt therapy
or lyrical solipsism (rodin-achilles?)
or engenderment
or simulacra
simulating pre-socratic
denunciation of origins—

These lines seem as good a description of the processes at work in Synopticon as any a critic may propose. They also show the ambition of the poets, imagining the poet as ‘the last scientist of the whole’ (Robert Kelly), i.e. as a last generalist (we shall go in fear of specialists) for whom all knowledge whatsoever is of use; a definition that also proposes an ambitious dimension for the work: how to bring the vast range of contemporary knowledges — be they facts, perceptions, realizations, readings, dreams, speculations, criticisms, variations, whatever — into an open field that is not pre-striated (in Deleuze/Guattari’s sense of overdetermined).”

by Louis Armand & John Kinsella
introduction by Pierre Joris
ISBN 978-80-7308-410-3 (paperback) 107pp
Publication date: April 2012
Prague: Litteraria Pragensia Books / Charles University

LOUIS ARMAND’s books include Inexorable Weather (Arc, 2001), Strange Attractors (Salt, 2003) and Letters from Ausland (Vagabond, 2011). He is an editor of VLAK magazine and director of the Centre for Critical & Cultural Theory, Charles University, Prague.

JOHN KINSELLA’s books include Peripheral Light (Norton, 2003), The New Arcadia (Fremantle, 2005) and The Divine Comedy: Journeys through a Regional Geography (UQP, 2008). He is a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, and international editor of the Kenyon Review.

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